HARARE, ZIMBABWE - Scientists in Africa say they are a step closer to prevention of HIV transmission.
Researchers have been studying a vaginal ring containing an antiretroviral drug called dapivirine. Their findings show the dapivirine ring, inserted into a woman’s genital tract and used for a month at a time, reduced the risk of HIV infection by 27 percent.
The study, known as ASPIRE (A Study to Prevent Infection with a Ring for Extended Use), was conducted in Malawi, Uganda, South Africa and Zimbabwe by researchers from the University of Zimbabwe-University of California San Francisco Collaborative Research Program. The U.S. National Institutes of Health funded the research, and more than 2,600 women took part between 2012 and 2014.
Zimbabwean researcher Felix Mhlanga has coined a phrase about the antiretroviral product: "There is hope in ASPIRE.”
"There is hope in the sense that we got a prevention agent that is able to avert one in three infections," he said. "We also have hope in the sense that, if funds permit, this ring can be taken into full production for use.
"A lot of the infections are occurring in young women, 60 percent of them. For once, they have a product they can use and you do not really have to explain it to other people. It is not like a condom, which you have to negotiate with your partner."
In a second trial, called the Ring Study, HIV risk was reduced by 31 percent overall, and by 37 percent among participants older than 21. HIV activist Tariro Kutadza said those results left her concerned about whether those under 21 would use the ring effectively.
"I think it is their attitude," she said, wondering whether younger women would use the ring for a while, then want to move on to another option. "We have a lot of work to do" to promote use of the product, she said.
Any progress in defeating HIV transmission would be welcome in Zimbabwe and nearby countries. Estimates say out of the 34 million HIV-positive people worldwide, 69 percent live in sub-Saharan Africa.